Friday, December 15, 2006

The Fountain (2006)

There are two things that need saying up front before commencing with the review:

1. This is a hard film for me to recommend to a general audience.
2. This is one of the most beautiful, moving films I've seen this year.

Explanations may be in order.

Darren Aronofsky's new film THE FOUNTAIN explores the search to stave off death, to prolong life, and to reconcile with a world where loneliness is an inevitable aftermath of the connection of true love. It's also a film about time, how lifetimes can be encapsulated in a book, and how the time we have is never time enough. It's a poem of sound and image, a romance and a tragedy, and a shout to a world whose concepts of love and loss have been spoon-fed to them by prime-time soap operas on the CW and films starring Lindsey Lohan.

Aronofsky shows how much he's learned from his experience adapting Hubert Selby's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and presents a story that unfurls through dream logic and multiple narratives that are at heart the same story: Tom (Hugh Jackman in his best role) and Izzi (Rachel Weisz - also brilliant) are in love and know that there isn't enough time: Izzi is dying of cancer and Tom, a brilliant scientist, is trying more and more exotic experiments in his lab to halt the growth of the tumor, to gain more time, more life, even as he neglects Izzi when she needs him most. He finds strange results from a rare plant found somewhere in South America, but will it save Izzi?

Izzi is also trying to complete her work with the little time she has left - a novel that takes place 500 years earlier about a young Spanish conquistador named Tomas (also played by Jackman) in search of a legendary Tree of Life that promises eternal life for his Queen, Isabel (also played by Weisz).

How these two tales intertwine with the third, in which a man (Jackman in his most vulnerable part) 1500 years in the future flies through space in a bubble containing the Tree of Life turn THE FOUNTAIN into something more than a loose narrative, something to be experienced rather than analyzed during its initial viewing. Where Tom is going, how he got there, and what he's searching for all lead to the same end, the same struggle that people who have ever known love seek to answer: how to hold on a little longer, and what can you do when your grasp begins to slip...

The road to bring THE FOUNTAIN to the screen has a long and storied history itself - the roles were originally to be played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchette. How that fell apart, how the movie stalled for years only to ultimately be re-written for a budget half the size and with new leads Jackman and Weisz all seemed to have focused Aronofsky to make the best film of career - one that does not hold easy answers or allows itself to be pigeon-holed into a specific genre.

And that's why even though I loved it, I find it hard to openly recommend. I wish I could get more people to see it, but the truth of the matter is this so different than what you would typically find in mainstream movie theaters that the spoon-fed crowd is going to hate this. And that's too bad, because I think it you're willing to dig a little, to be challenged by a film that seeks to circumscribe conventional narrative, you'll find in THE FOUNTAIN one of the most beautiful, expressive movies playing this year.

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